3.6 - Ergonomics

Ergonomics is synonymous with "human factors." It means the science of fitting the workplace to the worker rather than vice versa. Certain workplaces that have involved repetitive motion, such as assembly lines, have recognized for years that the workforce developed injuries in the course of their jobs. We are now finding that repetitive motion injuries are appearing in office workers and others who spend a large amount of their work day typing on the computer. These types of injuries also appear in musici ans, supermarket check-out clerks, and a variety of other workers who perform the same type of task repeatedly. Repetitive motion injuries or cumulative trauma disorders are musculoskeletal disorders involving muscles, tendons, and nerves and are manifesting themselves as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, among other things. Education and simple changes in individual behavior, work habits, and work stations can help prevent such disorders from occurring.




* Excerpted by permission from the VDT Ergonomics Project Office, IBM Corporation, Somers, NY 10589.

[Stiffness and soreness often results from locking our bodies into a single position or repeating a single task]

Do your muscles occasionally feel stiff and sore even though all you've done throughout the day is work at a desk? The reason could be that you've been sitting in the same position for hours, with your body "locked" in a single position. Or you've been using one set of muscles, repeating the same task or using forceful movements.

If your body is held for a period of time in a fixed position, you may experience discomfort or persistent pain in muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. This discomfort can be prevented, or minimized, simply by moving around and changing your work habits.

[Make sure your body is always in a relaxed, natural position]

The key to comfort is making sure your body is always in a relaxed, natural position. That means ensuring your activities do not force you to tense your muscles, strain your tendons or place your body in an awkward posture. The ideal work position is to have your arms hanging relaxed from your shoulders. If you use a keyboard, your arms should be bent at right angles at the elbow, with your hands held in a straight line with your forearms and elbows close to your body. Your head should be in line with your body and slightly forward.

If you work at a visual display, the top of the screen should be at, or just slightly below, eye level. This allows your eyes to see the screen at a comfortable angle, without having to tilt your head or move your back muscles. Your chair should be adjusted for comfort, making sure your back is supported and that the seat is at a height so that your thighs are horizontal and your feet are flat on the floor. Work materials should be within easy reach.

To give your body some relief from sitting, stand up, stretch or shift position on your chair throughout the day.


The Stanford Health Improvement Program (HIP) offers an office ergonomics seminar. The HIP seminar provides information on understanding the cause of physical problems, techniques for proper equipment set-up to minimize discomfort, aids for comfort and injury prevention, recommended breaks, and exercises for muscular relief and problem prevention. Contact HIP at 725-4406 to schedule a seminar.

Ergonomics Products
Central Stores carries a variety of office ergonomics products such as glare screens, wrist pads, foot rests, chairs, etc. Consult the online listing or the Stores catalog to get a complete list of products and prices.




Sitting in a fixed position for long periods of time can be uncomfortable and fatiguing.

Make sure that you:

* Adjust your seat so that you are comfortable, with your back supported, your feet are flat on the floor or on a foot rest, and there is no pressure behind your knees.

* Use a soft touch on the keyboard and keep your shoulders, hands, and fingers relaxed.

* Organize your work area so that all work material and tools are within easy reach and at a comfortable level.

* Use a document holder, positioned at about the same plane and distance as the display screen.

* Adjust your display to a comfortable viewing height, with the top of the screen at or just below eye level.

* Avoid glare by positioning your screen away from light sources, e.g., sunlight through windows or overhead lights. Use a glare filter, if needed.

* Notify your manager or supervisor if discomfort persists.




Posture and work habits play a large part in your overall comfort.

* Take frequent breaks. Every hour or so, stand up and move your legs to restore circulation. Because computer use encourages you to stay stuck in your seat, learn to build in "stand up" opportunities throughout your day, e.g., standing when you talk on the telephone.

* Stretch. It's another of the important things in your control. When you take your breaks, add a whole-body overhead stretch, then carefully swing each shoulder through its range of motion several times. Also learn several hand and finger stretches and do them every half-hour to releive muscle tension.

* If possible, alternate activities so you do seated computer work in small time blocks, rather than large time chunks-it is very helpful for your body if you can allow some "recovery time" after computer work by doing something else, such as telephone calling or filing.

* Frequently remind yourself to sit in a neutral posture, not hunched over your desk. Keep your head up!

* Take regular vision breaks to relieve your eyes. Do "hard blinks" (tightly closing and then opening wide) to help restore lubrication. Focus on a distant object for 10-15 seconds, then close your eyes and "cup" with your palms to de-glare. Do this every thrity minutes when you're working on a computer.

* If you wear glasses, let your eye care provider know that you work at a computer. Reading distance is different for a computer; you may need a different prescription.

* Don't smoke! Get (or stay) in shape to keep muscles strong!